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We Thought Earth’s Water Came From Comets. Turns Out That’s Not The Full Story

We have comets and asteroids to thank for Earth’s water, according to the most widely-held theory among scientists. But it’s not that cut-and-dried. It’s still a bit of a mystery, and a new study suggests that not all of Earth’s water was delivered to our planet that way.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe, and it’s at the center of the question surrounding Earth’s water. This new study was co-led by Peter Buseck, Regents’ Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and School of Molecular Sciences at Arizona State University. Read more

Water Has More Than One Type of Molecule, And That’s Even Stranger Than We Thought

Not that you could tell by looking at it, but the glass of water sitting on your desk contains two different kinds of water molecule rotating in subtly different ways.

A recent experiment managed to separate them, discovering one is much better at reacting than the other. We don’t expect this ‘better’ water to become a market hit, but the method behind the discovery is a boon for quantum chemistry. Chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland took a mix of good old dihydrogen monoxide particles and used electrostatic fields to sort them according to their total nuclear spin. Read more

Presence of water confirmed on the moon

Water Ice confirmed at the moon’s poles

In the darkest and coldest parts of its polar regions, a team of scientists has directly observed definitive evidence of water ice on the Moon’s surface. These ice deposits are patchily distributed and could possibly be ancient. At the southern pole, most of the ice is concentrated at lunar craters, while the northern pole’s ice is more widely, but sparsely spread.

The image shows the distribution of surface ice at the Moon’s south pole (left) and north pole (right), detected by NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper instrument. Blue represents the ice locations, plotted over an image of the lunar surface, where the gray scale corresponds to surface temperature (darker representing colder areas and lighter shades indicating warmer zones). The ice is concentrated at the darkest and coldest locations, in the shadows of craters. This is the first time scientists have directly observed definitive evidence of water ice on the Moon’s surface. Credit: NASA

A team of scientists, led by Shuai Li of the University of Hawaii and Brown University and including Richard Elphic from NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, used data from NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument to identify three specific signatures that definitively prove there is water ice at the surface of the Moon.

M3, aboard the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, launched in 2008 by the Indian Space Research Organization, was uniquely equipped to confirm the presence of solid ice on the Moon. It collected data that not only picked up the reflective properties we’d expect from ice, but was able to directly measure the distinctive way its molecules absorb infrared light, so it can differentiate between liquid water or vapor and solid ice. Read more

Earth Is Sucking Down Way More Water Than We Thought, And No One’s Sure Where It’s Going

Slow-motion collisions of tectonic plates under the ocean drag about three times more water down into the deep Earth than previously believed, according to a seismic study that spans the Mariana Trench.

The observations from the deepest ocean trench in the world have important implications for the global water cycle, researchers say.

“People knew that subduction zones could bring down water, but they didn’t know how much water,” says Chen Cai, who recently completed his doctoral studies at Washington University in St. Louis and is first author of the paper, which appears in Nature.

“This research shows that subduction zones move far more water into Earth’s deep interior—many miles below the surface—than previously thought,” says Candace Major, a program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Sciences, which funded the study. Read more

How Mars lost its water to space

How the sun pumps out water from Mars into space

Russian and German physicists have offered an explanation for the new data obtained by Martian satellites, capturing the “escape” of hydrogen atoms from the upper Martian atmosphere into outer space. The developed model fits well with the observations and explains a number of puzzling phenomena related to the atmosphere of Mars. The research was published in the journal Geographical Research Letters.

The atmosphere of Mars is cold and rarefied, like the Earth atmosphere at high altitudes. Under such conditions, there is no liquid water, but rather clouds consisting of tiny ice crystals. On Earth, such clouds — called “feathery” — are formed at 6 kilometers above the surface. As the ice crystals are rather heavy, the bulk of the water is contained in the lower atmospheric layer, approximately 60 kilometers thick. However, the data obtained from the U.S. satellite MAVEN (short for “Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN”) and the Hubble Space Telescope evidences a periodic stream of hydrogen atoms escaping the planet. Their only source may be water dissociating into oxygen and hydrogen in the upper atmospheric layers (70-80 kilometers from the ground) as a result of exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Read more